InPrint USA: Making Walls Dynamic, York Wallcoverings

Wanderlust Green

Wanderlust Green

When InPrint USA makes its debut in Orlando next spring (April 25-27, 2017 at the Orange County Convention Center), print service providers will be able to explore the latest industrial print solutions for functional, decorative and package printing. Co-located with ICE USA (the International Converting Exhibition), InPrint USA will showcase an array of print technologies – from screen and specialty to digital, inkjet and 3D. 

How do you best integrate a new print technology into your company’s offerings and workflow?

We thought we’d put that question to a company – York Wallcoverings – that has been through the process.

Nearly 15 years ago, York Wallcoverings began integrating digital technologies and processes into its manufacturing mix. Headquartered in York, Pennsylvania, the company has been producing wallcoverings since 1895. In fact, York is the country’s oldest and largest wallpaper manufacturer, as it proudly states on its website. You can find its products – which include an array of wallcoverings that incorporate specialty materials such as embroidery, flocked fibers and even Swarovski crystals – in retailers and e-tailers throughout the US and in more than 80 other countries. 

We asked Wade Neff, York Wallcovering’s Director of Digital Operations, what effect digital has had on the company, its production throughput and its products.  Below is a shortened version of the full interview, which will be published in InPrint USA media partner publications in the coming months.    

York Wallcoverings offers its wallcoverings for both consumers and B2B, yes? 

“Yes, our products can be found in the residential space as well as the commercial markets. We manufacture and distribute to the consumer through retail partners and through wholesalers, big box retailers, small retailers, international sales and more. In the commercial space, our clients include businesses, hospitals, hotels and so on. About 80% of our business is residential, and about 20% is commercial, based on sales dollars.”

And all of York’s wallcoverings are produced in-house?

“Nearly all – the vast majority are printed and produced in our two York, Pennsylvania, facilities. As a global leader in this space, we have other resources as well, but most of our work takes place here. Our designs are also done here – we have design teams comprising designers, stylists and colorists, all working to produce the world’s most appealing wallcovering designs. We also work with some of the world’s best known brands for licensed wallcoverings and wall decals, including some of pop culture’s most beloved characters plus designs from leaders in the home-décor space.”

Let’s turn to the printing and production aspect -- what print technologies does York have in-house?

“We utilize five different types of presses: rotogravure, rotary screen, flexographic and, of course, digital, plus surface presses that date back to the 1890s as well as some other more proprietary types of production.”

Was digital added as a way to address shorter runs and faster turnaround?

“We’ve been printing digitally for about 13 years, and we moved into digital for a variety of reasons, including reduced tooling costs. You can spend a lot of dollars burning screens and engraving cylinders for gravure and rotary screen – a digital press offers significant savings just in that regard. Plus, digital offers reduced inventory costs, expanded capabilities and an increased number of colors that you can print. Our designers and clients love having access to state-of-the-art technology that allows them to produced larger patterns and more colors than they ever could before.”

Stargazer Black

Stargazer Black

Can you be more specific with regards to your digital printing technologies?

“We heavily use UV inkjet and latex inkjet, eco-solvent inkjet, and quite a bit of toner-based electrostatic printing. When it comes to UV we tend to favor non-LED machines right now but UV LED is gaining traction for certain applications.

“We primarily use roll-fed printers or hybrid machines that are set up as roll-feds. However, we will print on rigid from time to time. We sometimes get asked to take on a job that requires rigid: feature walls for a hotel, for instance, or perhaps a custom mural for a corporation’s lobby, printed on acrylic panel with the same pattern as the wallcoverings we’ve produced. We’re seeing more and more of this type of work.”

And some specifics about how York has integrated digital into its wallcoverings production?

“For one, we’re using digital production to prototype and test for our longer-run analog processes. Tooling for design and texture can run into tens of thousands of dollars, so we often use digital to prototype and develop designs and textures, and really make sure they work and present the way we want them to before making that investment in more traditional tooling. It helps us immensely, not only with the vetting of new design ideas, but with our speed to market.  On the flip side, we can also use digital technology to revive old designs where the tooling may no longer be available or effective for producing a job needed by a customer. It allows us to keep our back catalog open in a way we never could before, while adding to it with the ability to easily further customize old SKUs with new colors, textures or scales.”

“Another area for digital in is when we use multiple print and ink types in the same product. For example, if certain specific colors and special effects aren’t achievable in the digital space, we’ll produce a hybrid product that combines gravure print and then digital, or vice versa. Or if a design has large areas of solid color in it, which might be cost-prohibitive to do digitally, we’ll flood-coat that on a gravure press or other analog device, then overprint digitally with the more detailed design elements. This opens up many horizons for use, not the least of which is freeing us from the constraints of limited colors that are dictated by the number of gravure or screenprint stations on our analog equipment.”

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